Opinion

Summer is coming, what does business casual mean now?

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Genevieve Roberts


Your employees are excited about the warmer weather and digging their lighter clothes out of their closets.  As their employer, you begin bracing yourself for what they might show up wearing to the office — or worse to your client’s site.

Formal dress code policies help guide your managers and employees on what is acceptable dress and what is not.  However, every company is different and every company’s culture is different.  Where open-toed shoes may be acceptable at one firm, they may be frowned upon at another. It is better to get the policy clarified now and distributed to your work force to eliminate. You want to avoid a manager informing a young female employee that tube tops are not appropriate dress.

Where to begin?  Start by understanding what image the company is trying to project to clients, employees and future employees.  Do you have a serious or relaxed culture?  How often are employees interacting with clients, vendors, or others where a professional image is warranted?  Write your policy with your human resource manager’s help and find out what the benchmark is for other firms in your industry.  Some companies have even put on fashion shows to make it crystal clear what to wear and what not to wear.

We recommend that the dress code policy reflect the company’s culture and brand image it is trying to build.  We lean on the side of conservatism to reduce the possibility of offending others.  This typically means that policies should state that the following items are not acceptable business attire:

• Flips flops
• Tank tops
• Tube tops
• Short shorts
• Cut off shorts
• Mini skirts that are shorter than one’s arm length
• Low cut blouses
• Muscle shirts

Reinforcing your dress code policy is much easier when you have a written policy that has been distributed to all your employees.  If an employee does show up to work in an outfit that is inappropriate, you should send him home to change, and you may dock his pay (if the employee is nonexempt).  If you have a continual abuser of the policy, she should be disciplined according to your policy manual, which could include possible termination.

The following is a sample dress code policy that clearly explains the requirements for this organization.

1. One of the many benefits of working for our firm is a relaxed dress code policy of business casual during the summer months. While allowing for comfortable attire, good taste is expected and required. Since business casual can be subject to broad interpretation, some of the basics are defined below. However, if you have questions, please contact your supervisor.

2.  Policy: It is the policy of our firm that each employee’s dress, grooming and personal hygiene should be appropriate to the work situation. The image portrayed should be one of professionalism. This means that neatness and good taste in appearance is required of all employees regardless of work area.

3. During the summer months, announced annually, the general guidelines for business casual dress in the office are:

No jeans; however, denim dresses, jumpers and skirts are acceptable.
No tennis, athletic shoes, or flip flops (i.e., beachwear).
No T-shirts, sweatshirts, or athletic wear.
No extremely short skirts or shorts. No tight pants, leggings, or sweatpants. 
Casual dress for men includes shirts with collars (without a tie) and slacks, like Dockers.  No baggy, low-hanging pants or sweatpants. Also, men must wear socks.
For women, blouses, tops, and shirts must be of sufficient length to cover the beltline.  No low-cut tops, tank tops or halter tops.  Casual dress can include capri pants or gauchos as long as they are not tight and they are mid-calf length or longer.  No cropped jeans.

4. Also, please remember that the president, vice presidents, and supervisors may occasionally adjust the summer dress code for special events.

5. Questions concerning this policy may be referred to the Human Resources Office.

Another interesting example is from the National Basketball Association’s dress code. These players have a reputation for always looking their best.  Part of their policy is included below.

“…Players are required to wear Business Casual attire whenever they are engaged in team or league business.
“Business Casual” attire means
•  A long or short-sleeved dress shirt (collared or turtleneck), and/or a sweater.
•  Dress slacks, khaki pants, or dress jeans.
•  Appropriate shoes and socks, including dress shoes, dress boots, or other presentable shoes, but not including sneakers, sandals, flip-flops, or work boots.
Excluded Items
The following is a list of items that players are not allowed to wear at any time while on team or league business:
•  Sleeveless shirts
•  Shorts
•  T-shirts, jerseys, or sports apparel (unless appropriate for the event (e.g., a basketball clinic), team-identified, and approved by the team)
•  Headgear of any kind while a player is sitting on the bench or in the stands at a game, during media interviews, or during a team or league event or appearance (unless appropriate for the event or appearance, team-identified, and approved by the team)
•  Chains, pendants, or medallions worn over the player’s clothes
•  Sunglasses while indoors
•  Headphones (other than on the team bus or plane, or in the team locker room)…”

Whatever dress code guidelines you choose, get them documented in your policy and communicated to your employees because summer is right around the corner.

Genevieve Roberts is managing principal at Titan Group LLC in Richmond. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 


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